How to Be Parisian: Good Sport

How to Be Parisian: Good Sport

Stephen puts his hand in his pocket to put on a good show for the Olympics.

I don’t receive many letters these days. Or send many. I’d probably have to go online to find a manual to work out how to use an envelope. It’s also been months since I set foot inside a Parisian post office, because you can print French stamps on your computer now. In fact, the only time I seem to go into a post office these days is to fetch a dreaded registered letter.

If you live in a typical Parisian building, the postie never ventures further than the mailboxes in the entrance hall, so you’re doomed to receive a little yellow form criticising you for not being at home when delivery was attempted – whereas in fact you were probably having breakfast in your kitchen while the postie was thinking, “Walk up all those stairs? Non, merci.”

Registered letters are usually bad news. True to form, the other day I received a yellow form and had to queue up at the post office to get a letter informing me that I am to finance Paris’s 2024 Olympic Games.

The Olympics are on me

No, not all of them, fortunately. I’m pretty sure the city and the French state will be covering the cost of the new running tracks, swimming pools, beach volley pitches and breakdance stages. (Yes, breakdancing is now officially a sport rather than a dance. I wonder when they’ll be awarding gold medals for my style of lazy disco shuffle?)

My share of the 2024 Games’ cost is going to be a few thousand euros, which will be spent on repainting the façade of my building. My neighbours were all as dumbfounded as me by the sudden demand for cash from our syndic (building managers). The façade looks fine – no cracks, no creaky-looking balconies, not even any stains underneath the gutters. Why should we repoint and repaint?

The syndic informed us that, being in the north of Paris, we are on a route that Olympic athletes or foreign dignitaries might take to drive to the national stadium, the Stade de France. Collectively, we must therefore put on a fresh layer of make-up. I was tempted to ask: next July, will I be fined if I step outdoors without a tie? Will I be locked up for not shaving?

But the syndic assured us that this was all deadly serious. Failure to vote for, and then pay for, a ravalement (the French word for tarting up your façade) would incur fines and a compulsory ravalement performed by highly- expensive builders imposed on us by the authorities. So as you read this, there will, no doubt, be scaffolding on my building and brown rain showering passers-by as the sand-blasting hoses get to work. I hope the sprinters, javelin- throwers and breakdancers will be grateful.

Feeling boules-headed

If I keep mentioning this newly-elected ‘sport’, it’s because breakdancing is the fly in the soupe à l’oignon of many French people’s opinions about the Olympics. The reason for this distaste is that even though these Games are in Paris, where I think it’s safe to say that pétanque is one of the most popular participation sports (yes, it’s not just a Provençal thing), no boules will be lobbed competitively at Paris 2024.

It’s ironic that breakdancing has been chosen as an Olympic event for its popularity with the people’, while in my area of Paris, pétanque has never been so popular. Every evening when the weather is fine there will be at least ten games along the canal. In the summer, triple that. When I first heard that Paris 2024 was excluding pétanque, I was tempted to start a petition and send it to the Olympic Committee. I didn’t, though… mainly because I was afraid they might reply with a registered letter.

Stephen Clarke’s new novel, Merde at the Paris Olympics, was published on November 16. In it, Paul West joins a (very) French campaign to get pétanque accepted as an Olympic event.

From France Today Magazine

Lead photo credit : © Shutterstock

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